Why do we do it?

I have a neighbor, Ron, who, upon retiring from the machine shop industry, invested in some equipment and launched a stump grinding business with his wife, who had also retired. Ron used his knowledge of machine tools that cut metal to master the cutting of wood with very similar machine tools. I really liked his setup.

Ron is a nice guy who would help anyone who asked, but I seriously doubt he would teach me stump grinding so I could compete against him. Yet, this happens quite frequently in the water well drilling business. We think of manufacturers and suppliers wanting to spread knowledge about equipment and techniques as a way to create sales. But, drillers teaching drillers — often their competitors — is quite amazing.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Ground Water Association (PGWA) has two events: a Winter Conference and a Summer Conference. The former, typically near the end of January, gets held inside. The latter happens in June, and they hold it outside under a tent. I’ve attended their Summer Conference, and event that can feature demos on downhole camera systems, fishing tools, setting casing, hole openers, casing advance systems, mud systems, setting loops, and hydrofracking.

This was not sitting on your butt and looking at a slide show. This was in-person action. Rigs ran, tools were handles, hammers hammered, drill pipe turned, explainers explained and drillers asked questions. Of course, manufacturer reps and distributors presented some of the demos. But most were either taught or augmented by water well drillers, and it was the well drillers who brought their rigs and auxiliary equipment.

Two demonstrations that stick in my mind featured casing advancement systems and hydrofracking.

How Do Casing Advancement Systems Work?

As a manufacturer, I was familiar with the casing advance systems. A DTH hammer drills a hole large enough for the casing to follow the bit, but when it reaches the desired depth, the operator withdraws the hammer through the casing. Drillers have many options and methods for doing this, but they all required a string of drill pipe running inside casing. This sounds simple enough until you think about how, exactly, you get the drill pipe inside that casing and onto your drill’s head to drill. I could see wrestling 5-foot lengths of smaller-sized casing and drill pipe. But how would you run 6⅝-inch OD casing with 4½-inch drill pipe in 20 or 25 foot lengths?

During one of the PGWA’s Summer Conferences, I saw how it was done. They had equipment from a couple different drilling contractors and one of the contractors had the microphone and directed the operations. It was not quick and easy, and took some time and effort. Once the casing was over the drill pipe and in position on the rig, they welded the casing and drilling continued. I was surprised to learn how it was done.

How Does Hydrofracking Work on a Water Well?

Hydrofracking is not new. I believe the water well industry started adopting the method in the early ’80s. Today, contractors can offer it to customers as a value-added service, especially when a new well in a hard rock formation has a lower-than-expected yield. Hydrofracking can be a good solution over other options, but how do you do it and what equipment is needed?

I understood the concept. You pack off a zone and pump high-pressure water into the formation. The goal? Opening up the cracks and crevices to encourage more groundwater flow. I had never seen it done so I was excited to see a demonstration — as were plenty of contractors considering it as a service offering.

A Pennsylvania well driller brought his hydrofracking unit and tools, and set up over a previously drilled well. Packers were set and the demo began. They invited drillers up to see how to set the pressures and read the gauges — a well driller teaching others, some of whom are competitors. 

Afterwards, I asked why he so freely shared his knowledge and experience. Like those involved in the organization’s leadership, he believes that by improving the industry, he improves everyone.

We have seminars on various subjects at the larger trade shows, but often the equipment representatives presenting them tend not to discuss difficulties or downsides. At smaller state and local meetings, you more often get to learn from contractors talking about the real efforts required and even tips on how to get through challenges. For example, a sales rep talking about a casing advancement system might say, “Just slide the casing over the drill pipe.” A contractor teaching the same system can demo it, showing just how it gets accomplished.

These state and local organizations serve many purposes. Well drillers typically become well drillers through their employer or families. These state and local associations provide a source of information on industry laws, new products and correct procedures to do the job right. Maybe that is part of the reasoning behind these educational demonstrations. They make the case for doing it right, when doing it right often costs more and can lead to bid losses against others who just do not know better.

Of all the trade shows that I have attended, I learned far more about the drilling process at these outdoor demonstrations. I applaud the PGWA and others that work hard to put together these programs. If you have not attended these venues, stop by to see what your competition is learning.